guitar gear, music

Review: BMPDF Overdrive

We all have our weaknesses and mine is for the distorted electric guitar. I love it. I love the various types and timbres and all the science behind why these things work—it’s all interesting to me. I belong to a number of fan-forums for people who love this stuff more than I do (and certainly know much more than I do.) A home-brew pedal-builder name Jeffery Pallo and I got to talking about a shared love for a specific and way under-appreciated circuit—and as a result of these Facebook chats, a brand new pedal has been thus been birthed.

It is called the BMPDF.

It comes in a violet-shaded box (an oblique reference to one of my “holy grail,” sought-after distortion pedals.)

At a surface level, the BMPDF seems very simple. There’s two foot-switches and only three knobs. How complex could such a thing possibly be? Well, it turns out, five knobs can be a complex thing indeed!

The BMPDF is what’s known as a “cascading” distortion, and with some careful dial-twisting, it can carry a player tonally from a warm, rich Tubescreamer-type sound, into wild, hairy, “1969” Stooges tones.

What is the BMPDF and how does it work?

The concept of “cascading” distortion is simple and time-honored: what’s better than one distortion pedal? Two of them in combination. One circuit flows into another circuit, with both being active at the same time. The net result is that both circuits augment and shape each other; they become much more explosive.

This is a “cascading” over drive set-up, using two very different pedals.

Fig 1

[ Boss Blues Driver ] -> [ Boss DS-1]

Fig 2

[Muff Fuzz Overdrive No. 1] -> [Muff Fuzz Overdrive No. 2]

In Fig. 1, those are two separate units, operating independently, blending into each other.

In Fig. 2, all the action occurs in the same box, has a foot-switch so that a player can use only one circuit or both together, and also has a tone control to add or reduce treble and bass content.

Figure 2, you may have guessed, is the BMPDF.

Each Muff Fuzz Overdrive circuit has its own single knob, and they are set independently. Roll a knob left, and the circuit is all “off.” Roll it right, and the effect is all “on.” Very straight-forward. The tone knob has some quirks and I’ll talk about that at the end because the quirks are incredibly important, but also a bit obscure.

Suffice it to say, the tone control works as they most often do: rolling to the right adds treble to the signal, roll to the left adds more bass.

The pedal has two foot-switches. The right switch activates only the first Muff Fuzz circuit; hitting the left switch means that both Muffs are on simultaneously.

What does it sound like?

I tried this pedal through a solid-state practice amp (sounded amazing, by the way) and also my Fender Deluxe Reverb, which I gig with regularly, and has some quirks but is a terrific amp.

On its own, a single Muff Fuzz Overdrive is warm, rich and fat—and surprisingly dark and viscous. I personally find that, in single-muff mode, both the muff and tone controls need to be set at least at noon to get a full effect.

As the single Muff edges into overdrive, it gets really wide and fat, and a subtle, top-end hairiness begins to emerge—it’s just extremely difficult to describe, but it’s harmonically fascinating. It’s almost like playing a guitar though an old, broken radio or record player or something.

To be absolutely clear: this pedal is in absolutely no way a clear or transparent anything. This is a syrupy, enriching overdrive that heavily colors the guitar tone—which is the point, right?

Now then:

As much fun as one MFO can be, the pedal really shines in “double” or “both on” mode—with both Muff Fuzz Overdrive circuits being blended together.

In this mode, the first muff acts something like a “master volume” controlling the overall volume of the pedal, while also adding considerable fatness and girth to the overall effect.

In double-muff mode, I found a sweet spot where muff-one is set around 1:00, and muff-two is maybe at 4:00. There’s another sweet spot with both muffs around 3:00.

Both circuits seem to blossom into each other, really opening up into a grinding and raw tone that is neither fully fuzz, nor fully overdriven, nor fully clean. There is a surprising amount of string and chordal clarity, while also having that classic woolliness and searing top-end. It’s an incredible rhythm sound, while still having some of that classic “singing sustain” that people associate with fuzz.

Also, this pedal is super-sensitive to the guitar’s own volume knob. Rolling the volume back to about 7 or 8, the BMPDF opens up into a brilliant, spanky, glassy “pushed” clean—every note just snaps at you. Each string sounds like you’re playing with barbed wire. Roll the volume up again, and suddenly the meaty, raw crunch re-emerges quickly.

These sounds immediately reminded me of the proto-punk and grunge albums that more or less taught me what I know about music. The MC5, The Stooges, The Who, Neil Young, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., even Nirvana—it’s all there in this little three-knob, two-channel box.

The tone knob.

There’s one more wrinkle to this pedal: the tone knob. Most tone knobs are really just filters for adding and subtracting bass and treble frequencies. The tone stack of the BMPDF does this, but it also has a “linear power booster” wedded to it.

Fuzz pedals in general are notorious for “scooping” mid-range content. That’s just the nature of the fuzz distortion beast—and guitar players perceive this as a drop in volume,  or “getting lost” in their band’s mix.

By adding a “linear power booster,” the BMPDF sort of bolsters frequencies that would otherwise be lacking. The BMPDF has a pronounced, definitely observable mid-range “fullness” or “hump” that other fuzzes just don’t have. This is a little detail but it can make a critical difference to a guitarist hoping to stand out in live settings.

Important footnote.

The BMPDF is not to be confused with any version of the Big Muff Pi. That is a totally different species of pedal. I love them, I own several, but they are totally different.

Pro-tip.

Try plugging a BMPDF in front of another Big Muff. The mid-range boost from the BMPDF sends a stock Big Muff into an utterly ludicrous meltdown of gain. Excellent for lead work, among other things. 🙂